5 Ways to Co-Parent Like a Ninja During Holidays and Summer Vacations

By Christine Powers Leatherberry Whether you’re thinking about the upcoming holidays or want to ensure co-parenting with your ex goes smoother next summer, it pays to plan ahead. You’ll also have a better shot at co-parenting ninja-hood if you and your ex work together and agree on a co-parenting plan that works well for everyone involved. Ready to start co-parenting like a ninja during upcoming holidays and summer vacations? Consider the following tips.   No. 1: Review your parenting plan and holiday schedule. If it’s been a few years since your parenting plan and possession schedule were agreed upon, it may be time for an update. Children’s needs, activities and interests can change drastically over time. Schedule time with your ex (and, if necessary, a mediator or parenting coordinator/parenting facilitator) to make adjustments. Once both parties agree to the changes, their respective attorneys can file any necessary paperwork. If you’re in the process of divorce and need to make plans for an upcoming holiday or vacation, your divorce attorney can explain what the default possession schedule in the Texas Family Code provides and whether a hearing will be necessary to address holiday and vacation plans. For additional tips, check out our holiday co-parenting infographic.  No. 2: Keep the shared family calendar up to date. Shared calendars help keep everyone on the same page and are readily available online. Some judges even require parents to use shared calendars, like Our Family Wizard, during the divorce process. However, shared calendars only work when they are accurate, so agree to diligently update the calendar when new events or activities arise. These include the children’s school and extracurricular activities, doctor appointments, family celebrations, birthday parties and other outings, as well as upcoming vacations. Newly divorced? Check out our back-to-school tips here.  No. 3: Discuss how to handle unforeseen costs and expenses. Who pays for what should be covered in your parenting plan; however, it isn’t unusual for unexpected events or activities to come up during summer vacation and holiday breaks. For example, say your son is invited to join his best friend and his parents for a weekend ski trip, and they’ll cover all expenses except airfare. You could ask the other parent to split the cost of the flight, or agree that the more affluent parent will pay a larger portion or all of the expense. No. 4: Be proactive about planning YOUR solo time. If you’re not used to spending summer vacation or holiday time without your kids, being apart could be difficult for you. To ease the loneliness, schedule activities for yourself while the kids are away. Whether that means reconnecting with old friends, going on vacation, pursuing a new hobby or donating time to a favorite charity, staying busy helps time fly and can be fulfilling as well. No. 5: Remember, the kids come first. Splitting children’s holiday and vacation time with another parent can be challenging, especially during and following a high-conflict divorce. To help minimize trauma and maximize enjoyment for your child, try to be as kind and flexible as possible with your ex. This will hopefully encourage him or her to do the same in return. If you find it impossible to co-parent – regarding holidays or otherwise – bring in a mediator or parenting coordinator/parenting facilitator to help sort through any issues. Your family law attorney can make recommendations if you need help finding one. Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate family lawyer who is equally comfortable in the courtroom as she is counseling her clients one-on-one. To learn more about divorce and child custody in...

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Thinking About Dating During Divorce? 7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t

By Aubrey Connatser If you’re in the process of a divorce and thinking about getting back into the dating scene, you may want to think twice. Not only can dating during divorce potentially jeopardize your divorce settlement and child custody arrangement, it can rock the emotions of everyone involved. Before you start downloading dating apps, consider the following reasons NOT to date during divorce. No. 1: It could take longer to finalize your divorce. If your spouse hasn’t come to terms with your split – which usually takes time – finding out that you’re dating someone else probably isn’t going to go over well with them. Depending on his or her current state of mind, it could feel like you’re pouring salt on their wounds, or you could end up fanning the flames of their anger. People who are upset and/or angry are typically less likely to want to make life easy for you or work with you to settle the divorce amicably. They could very well want to make you feel as miserable as they do, which in some cases, means drawing the divorce case out. No. 2: It could jeopardize your divorce settlement. In Texas, the judge will consider a couple legally married until their divorce decree is signed, sealed and delivered. An affair either party has prior to the divorce being finalized could be considered adultery, which could support a fault-based judgment against the adulterer, since adultery is one of the seven grounds for divorce in Texas. The issue here is that questions could be raised as to whether community funds are being used to pay for entertainment, gifts, loans or trips for a lover, leaving you subject to a reimbursement or waste claim. If the judge finds that misuse of community monies has occurred, your spouse could be awarded a larger portion of the community estate when all is said and done. No. 3: It could intensify the angst your children are feeling. Going through a divorce is a tumultuous time for everyone involved, but children can take it especially hard. Bringing someone new into the mix can be confusing and stressful for children. Plus, the time you spend dating or with a new lover is precious time taken away from your kids. Don’t underestimate the fragility of your child’s mental health right now – they need as much attention as you are able to give. Check out this past post where Aubrey shares five valuable resources to help kids cope during divorce. No. 4: It could complicate co-parenting and child custody. If your spouse is hurt or angry that you’re dating someone else, how eager do you think he or she will be to amicably co-parent and share custody with you? They may also have concerns about your child spending time with your new lover and whether that will affect the child negatively. Don’t be surprised if the other parent fights tooth and nail over every item in the parenting agreement or if they’re unwilling to let you keep your child an extra day for a special trip. No. 5: It could cost you more to get divorced. Whenever you do anything that complicates or drags out your divorce, you’ll most likely end up paying more fees to your attorney. If your spouse isn’t pleased that you’re dating before your divorce is finalized, your case could get prolonged, and therefore more expensive, if your spouse pursues relief from the court to keep the kids from being around your new love interest. Want to keep costs in check during your divorce? Avoid these eight mistakes....

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Is Being a Single Dad Hazardous for Your Health? 6 Longevity-Boosting Tips

A recent study published in The Lancet Public Health revealed that single fathers face a significantly higher risk of early death than single mothers or parents in a relationship. In fact, single dads were twice as likely to die during the research period than other parents involved in the 11-year Canadian study. While the researchers couldn’t pinpoint exactly why these dads were at higher risk, they did find that single fathers in the study tended to lead less healthy lifestyles than the other parents. Hoping to gain custody of your kids after divorce? Check out our past post on the five crucial steps dads should take to get custody in Texas. Could your single dad lifestyle use a little house cleaning? There is no question that single parenting is hard work. However, that doesn’t mean health should take a back seat to the other responsibilities you’re juggling. More important, your kids need you around for love and support – whether that means walking your daughter down the aisle or giving your son advice when he faces challenges of his own. If you want to be there for your kids for years to come, take a proactive approach to good health. Here are a few tips to get the ball rolling. Tip No. 1: Put your binge drinking days behind you. The Lancet study revealed that single dads were more likely to binge drink than other parents. Guess what? Binge drinking poses serious health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking (typically five or more drinks in a two-hour span for men, four or more for women) increases the risk for unintentional injuries (car accidents, falls, burns, etc.), high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, poor brain health, cancer and more. It can also lead to alcohol dependency. Speak with your doctor if you need help getting sober. If you don’t, it could negatively impact your ability to get custody or time with your kids. Tip No. 2: Man up and start getting annual physicals. Whether they see it as a sign of weakness, are afraid to find out something serious is wrong with them or feel uncomfortable undergoing certain tests (like prostate exams), many men avoid going to the doctor like the plague. Unfortunately, avoiding the doctor is another way men put their health more at risk than women, who are more likely to see a doctor annually or when they don’t feel well. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men, however many of the risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure and cholesterol issues, don’t present symptoms people can feel. Fortunately, heart disease can often be prevented when risk factors are diagnosed and treated early on. So, pick up the phone and schedule a physical. If you have sons, this is also a great opportunity to set a good example and help them get comfortable with having annual physicals. Tip No. 3: Opt for a cleaner, heart-healthy diet. Another possible risk factor for single dads’ shorter life spans may be unhealthy eating habits. As the Lancet researchers pointed out, single fathers in the study ate fewer fruits and vegetables than their counterparts. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends following a healthy diet plan that includes nutrient-rich foods with a balance of fruits and vegetables, minerals, lean protein, whole grains, nuts, legumes and non-tropical vegetable oils. In addition, the AHA suggests limiting sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, and sugar. Eating more fresh, unprocessed foods is a great first step to getting the nutrients you need and avoiding the...

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Ready to Say ‘I Do’ to a Blended Family? Speak With a Family Law Attorney First

By Abby Gregory Blended families have been the focus of two of the most popular sitcoms of all time. From 1969-74, “The Brady Bunch” shared the ups and downs of Mike and Carol Brady and their six kids. Since 2009, “Modern Family” has offered an updated take on the topic through the lens of patriarch Jay Pritchett’s family. While stepfamilies were more unusual in the Brady Bunch era, more people can relate to the circumstances of the Pritchett’s today. The Pritchett family includes Jay’s two adult children from a first marriage and young son from a later marriage. In addition, his gay son Mitchell and Mitchell’s husband Cameron have an adopted daughter. Are you ready to embark on a modern family journey of your own? Unlike the happy outcomes that typically come at the end of a 30-minute sitcom, real-life blended families can face a number of issues when parents aren’t on the same page about stepchildren or should disagreements snowball to the point that the marriage ends in divorce. Taking time to set expectations, learn about legal obligations and plan for the future can help reduce unnecessary stress and financial disputes down the road. Consider the following steps before you walk down the aisle: Have a frank conversation with your future spouse about expectations for any children involved. It isn’t unusual for spouses to enter a marriage with differing views on how they will financially support their children and for how long. This can be especially complicated if one of the parties wants to support their children to a degree beyond what the typical American family does. Some scenarios to discuss include: How long will you financially support children post-minority (after age 18)? Will you pay for private schooling, tutors, coaches, college, grad school, etc.? What extracurricular activities do you (or don’t you) want children to take part in? Will you pay for adult children’s weddings, first homes, cars, vacations, etc.? It’s important to have this discussion up front, because, if community property is used to pay for some of these things, they could be subject to a reimbursement claim in the event of a divorce. Understand your legal rights and obligations regarding children and stepchildren. Parties who decide to get divorced and have been financially supporting stepchildren during the marriage are typically under no obligation to continue supporting those stepchildren following divorce. That isn’t to say that the party who receives spousal support and/or child support for shared children can’t use that money to support children from a previous relationship. Texas family courts are very limited in terms of what they can do regarding stepchildren. Another issue that can arise with blended families is when one of the stepchildren is “bad news.” For example, the child may do drugs or bring drug paraphernalia into the home, use bad language, be disrespectful, suffer from mental illness or be a bad influence on other children in the home. Parties can ask the court to prohibit the parent from allowing that stepchild to be in the presence of other children in the family. Consider spelling out your wishes for stepchildren in a premarital (or post-marital) agreement. Parties who want to ensure stepchildren are provided for beyond age 18 or in the event of a divorce or death can do so by agreeing to and signing a premarital or post-marital agreement. These agreements may require a spouse to pay for certain expenses, such as private school, college, extracurricular activities, health insurance, medical bills or even a financial settlement for the stepchild upon the stepparent’s death. Premarital and post-marital agreements can also...

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Keep Calm and Parent On: 9 Essential Co-Parenting Tips During High Conflict Divorces

By Alissa Castro During a high-conflict divorce, interacting with a future ex-spouse can be emotionally draining. However, when children are involved, minimizing contact – by phone, email or in person – typically isn’t an option. Parents need to communicate regularly about exchanges, soccer games, school projects, piano lessons, etc. – not to mention which parent will have possession of the children and when. So how can couples successfully co-parent during the emotional rollercoaster of divorce – especially when one of the parents would rather escalate conflict than get along? At Connatser Family Law, we recommend the following nine tips. Tip No. 1: Never forget – kids come first. Divorce is stressful regardless of the circumstances, and it can be especially troubling for children. Before you say or do something, consider how those actions will affect the kids. Because children often have different perspectives than parents on topics during divorce, it can also be helpful to schedule time for children to meet with a family therapist or member of the clergy to discuss any concerns. Find more helpful resources to help kids cope in this past post. Tip No. 2: Don’t bad mouth the other parent. One of the first pieces of advice we give parents: Don’t speak poorly of the other parent in front of the children and ask friends and family members to do the same. Be the bigger parent. Keep in mind that half of your child’s DNA comes from the other parent. If you disparage your spouse, the child may believe you think less of him or her, too. Tip No. 3: Follow the Golden Rule. Treat people the way you want to be treated and opt for the kill-them-with-kindness strategy. As Michelle Obama famously said, “When they go low, you go high.” We get it, taking the high road isn’t easy. However, you’re better off going into court with clean hands, without threats or nasty emails showing up in evidence, which is likely to position you unfavorably in the eyes of the judge. Tip No. 4: Try to give the other parent the benefit of the doubt. He or she will probably make mistakes, but so will you. For example, if the other parent is always five minutes late picking up the kids, ask yourself, is that a battle worth fighting? If the parent is consistently late on certain days and that tardiness is creating a problem for the child, maybe he or she has a good reason for being late. Instead of attacking the other parent, bring the issue up directly with him or her. Explain how you are seeing a pattern on certain days or times and ask if adjusting your schedules could help. The goal here is to work together to co-parent like you’re still married. Collaborative problem solving and a willingness to work together – without attacking each other – is what your children need to see. Tip No. 5: Resist escalating conflict. In the midst of a high-conflict divorce, tensions are running high, and it can be tempting to send an angry text or email to the other party. By doing so, you’re just adding fuel to the fire, which isn’t healthy for anyone involved. Avoid responding immediately and take time to draft a thoughtful response before hitting send. Any correspondence sent to your spouse can be submitted as evidence and you want to avoid damaging your case. Tip No. 6: Utilize professionals to settle disagreements. Whether your disagreements are few or the other parent refuses to co-parent with you in any way, a parent facilitator or coordinator can be...

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They Help Others Navigate Divorce, So Why Are These Divorce Attorneys So Happily Married?

Dallas divorce attorney Alissa Castro has plenty to celebrate. June marks her third anniversary working with Connatser Family Law, and she recently became engaged to her fiancé Jimmy. So why is this young divorce attorney so excited to get married? For one thing, Alissa looks forward to people no longer asking: “After seeing so many people get divorced, are you ever going to get married?” She also has a positive outlook about marriage, because her happily married parents and colleagues have served as terrific role models. According to Alissa, “I am lucky enough to have parents who remain happily married after being together for over 40 years. Plus, it’s hard to be jaded about marriage when you work with five happily married divorce attorneys.” You get out of marriage what you put into it While she is consistently surrounded by the reality of divorce, Alissa is also inspired and encouraged by the successful marriages and behaviors modeled by her colleagues. “The attorneys that I work with lead by example – both in the workplace and within their relationships. They regularly show me they didn’t achieve the levels of success at work or in their marriages by luck – it all takes hard work,” Alissa says. She also appreciates the honesty, guidance and support her workplace family provides on a daily basis – much like they do with their clients. As Alissa explains, “The attorneys here have helped me set realistic expectations regarding difficulties related to balancing a legal career, marriage and (someday for me) children. They remind me each day that there will be bumps in the road, but you have to lean on your spouse (and your workplace family) during tough times.” Advice from the trenches: Five tips for a happy marriage We asked Alissa’s happily married colleagues to share insight on how they manage to keep their marriages going strong, while juggling busy careers and family life. The attorneys at Connatser Family Law shared the following tips: Tip No. 1: Don’t bring work home. Connatser Family Law founder Aubrey Connatser’s husband is also an attorney, and the couple agrees that it’s important to avoid talking about work after hours. As she explains, “Our cases can be really emotional and intense. So it’s best to leave that at the office.” Tip No. 2: Schedule lunch dates. Connatser Family Law attorney and mom of two Abby Gregory is fortunate to work in the same office building as her husband. “Since our offices are in close proximity, we enjoy one-on-one time at lunch and taking walks together nearby,” Abby says. Aubrey and her husband also schedule regular lunches together, because, “With young kids running around at night, it’s too hard to talk.” Connatser Family Law divorce attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry agrees. “It’s a lot to juggle with a baby, a toddler and both my husband and me being attorneys. In order to avoid feeling like ships passing in the night, we’ve started doing monthly lunches to regroup, enjoy each other’s company and not have to hire a babysitter.” Tip No. 3: Plan date nights and weekend staycations. According to Aubrey, “It’s nice to have the house alone to your spouse and yourself once in awhile. My husband and I send the kids to my mother MIMI’s house when we need a break.” Christine agrees and says, “We also try to do date night a couple times a month, which we hope to bump up to every week once we are past ‘the baby stage.’ The key is taking time to connect and not getting so consumed by children (or work)...

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